The eyes of the world will be on Poland and the Ukraine with the Friday kickoff of the 2012 Euros, with the top professionals of Spain, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Germany and eleven other nations vying for European supremacy in a competition that occasionally offers up unique surprise teams, such as Greek champions of Euro 2004.
But across the ocean, a German national who took a unique path in becoming a professional player is doing well establishing himself in his first year in the NASL, North America’s second division professional football league. Fabian Kling is a rookie defender with the San Antonio Scorpions. The 24 year-old Kling was born in Lauigen a.d. Donau, lived in Kaisheim and went to school in Augsburg as well as playing in FC Augsburg’s youth system. Kling came to the United States to play college ball and earn a degree at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado and was a key contributor in two NSCAA Division II National Championships earned by the Skyhawks in his four seasons at Fort Lewis. He was also named the NSCAA Division II Player of the Year following his senior season and scored 28 goals during his Skyhawks career.
Earlier this year, Kling trialed with both Reading FC of the English Championship and MLS club Chivas USA before signing with Coach Tim Hankinson’s expansion San Antonio Scorpions. He found a place in the starting XI for the Scorpions’ first ever match and has been a regular 90 minute a match player since then despite the many veterans of MLS, Mexican, Honduran and Swedish professional soccer that dot the Scorpions’ roster, including several players with international caps. The Scorpions have been a huge success on the field, losing only one of nine 2012 league games to be only a point out of the top spot in the NASL table while also advancing into the fourth round of the US Open Cup with one of their wins over Texas rivals the Houston Dynamo of MLS. The Scorpions also lead the NASL in attendance at their Heroes Field home, with crowds ranging from 7,000 to 13,000 fans per match thus far.
Fabian was kind enough to take time out from his busy schedule (the Scorpions will play eight matches in less than a month in NASL and USOC competitions). The following are his responses to the questions posed.
Fanatic: You spent time during your youth playing in the youth system of FC Augsburg and later with TSV Rain am Lech in Bavaria. Tell us about those experiences. You played with Rain am Lech during your summer breaks from college?
Fabian: It is always important for young players to be able to play for the youth program of a decorated club from the first or second Bundesliga. The youth program of Augsburg is very good and develops young players to continue on to high levels after being done with their youth career. I am glad that I spent part of my youth in the youth system of FC Augsburg, so I was able to be part of a good club and play football (soccer) on the highest youth levels. Rain am Lech is a quality amateur club currently advancing into the Regionalliga in Germany. After leaving FC Augsburg I was able to find such a club quickly and continue my career on a decent level. I made a lot of good experiences at Rain and also helped them advance to a higher league the year before I left to the U.S. Both experiences, playing in the youth of FC Augsburg and then advancing early to the adults with TSV Rain am Lech really helped me grow as a player and gave me the experiences necessary to find myself at the level I am at right now.
Fanatic: What was the process that led you to play college ball in the United States at Fort Lewis College?
Fabian: After I was done with High School (Gymnasium in Augsburg) I wanted to continue school, but also keep playing football at a high level. My mum actually found a company online that helps young athletes pursue this way. The Sport-Scholarship company asked me to record myself during practice and other specific drills as well as game scenes. They then put it together to a short video clip and put it up online for american coaches to look at. Meanwhile you take two different tests in english, the Toefl and the SAT, to prove and show the NCAA here that you are good enough in the language to go to school and keep up with the classes. In both tests you need to score above a certain score to be liable to play in college, the score also varies from college to college.
Fanatic: What makes Fort Lewis College such a power in NSCAA Division II soccer?
Fabian: Fort Lewis College features a good mixture of national as well as international student-athletes, very good coaching and of course the support of the whole community. FLC is like a big family and will always be a place where former student-athletes can return to after finishing school and still be known and welcomed at any point in time.
Fanatic: Tell us about your trials with Reading and Chivas USA?
Fabian: The trials with Reading and Chivas USA gave me more experience and showed me the differences between European and American football (soccer). Both trials were good experiences, especially the one with Reading, even though it does not seem that way because I did not get signed. I really wanted to get signed by Reading, but got unlucky because the new club changed ownership did not need a young player straight out of college. Chivas USA drafted me in the second round of the supplemental draft while I was in England on trial with Reading. However they did not need me because they already had 4 center backs signed at that time being. It was a good experience, but in the end I am glad I did not get signed because I was able to go to San Antonio and play as well as finishing up school, which both would not have happened in LA.
Fanatic: You signed with the expansion NASL San Antonio Scorpions and became a regular on a team of veterans from MLS, the Eerste Divisie, and the Mexican Primera, players with international caps. What have been some of your biggest adjustments playing professionally as opposed to the college game?
Fabian: One of my biggest adjustments playing professionally as opposed to the college game is the speed of play. In college competition you have more time on the ball whereas professionally you do not. Another big adjustment is having to be up for the game 100% every time and, even during the game, staying alert and without losing concentration at any point in time whereas on the college level you do have time to relax and/or lose concentration during the game.
Fanatic: Can you share some thoughts about the fan atmosphere in San Antonio, a team doing well not only on the pitch but also doing very well in attendance?
Fabian: The fan atmosphere here in San Antonio is great. It not only has do with the fact that there has always been a big crowd for football (soccer) in the community here and it was about time for San Antonio to have professional soccer, but also the fact that the front office of the club did a very good job before the season even started to promote the team. It is very exciting to play at home in front of a big crowd every night and see the outcome of our success (on and off the pitch) so far.
Fanatic: You’ve chosen a different career path from most young German players, playing college ball in the U.S. and now professionally here. Is there anything you would like to share with other young German players about the path you’ve chosen?
Fabian: I would like to let other young German players know that there are other ways out there to become a professional, as well as getting a degree on the side. No matter how much I love(d) football (soccer), getting a decent degree has always been on my mind and it is possible in the U.S. to do both. In Germany it is more difficult to play at a high level and get a degree at the same time. The sport is a continuously growing sport here in the States and will eventually overtake all the other sports to grow to the number one sport not only in Europe (as for now) but in the whole world.
Fanatic: The Bundesliga Fanatic is aware that you are a Bayern München fan? Have you been a fan of theirs since childhood? What were your emotions following the club from afar as they came so close to the treble this season but had to settle for being second best in the league, the Pokal and the Champions League?
Fabian: I have been a Bayern München fan since childhood, however I am not a huge fanatic. Watching the league or the Pokal (the German Cup) I do root for Bayern and want them to win, however when watching Champions League I just want any German team to advance as far as possible, because it is good for German football in general. Of course I was a little bit upset that Bayern came in second everywhere this past season, but one has to admit when another team is just better. Dortmund was the better team throughout the whole season and Bayern continued to struggle when playing against them. In the Champions League final I was even more upset, not only because they were better and should have won for sure, but more the fact that I lost a ‘double or nothing’ bet for dinner against my friend here.
Fanatic: Your hometown FC Augsburg club were promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time and survived to play in the top flight again last year. Any thoughts on Augsburg’s being in the top flight of German football?
Fabian: I think it is very good that Augsburg play in the top league, because it just shows how far they have come and that they were able to step out of the big shadow of Bayern. However it is important to not become an elevator team that eventually goes up and down between first and second league. Augsburg adjusted their style of play towards the end of the season compared to what kind of football they played at the beginning of season and that is what helped them survive. Now however I think that it is important to of course make the right preparations for next year and repeat the same success or better, but also to start working on the parts of the club that are deficient. However I am happy that they were able to finally pull it off to be part of the top flight, but also that they could adjust themselves during the season to overcome their deficiencies to assure their stay within the top flight.
Fabian and the Scorpions advanced to the US Open Cup Round of 16 before being eliminated by the Charlotte Eagles 2-1 Tuesday. The Scorpions will try to capture first place Saturday at home in their match against the Atlanta Silverbacks. The Scorpions occupy a unique place in the sports business world, as owner Gordon Hartman’s Soccer for a Cause project is affiliated with Morgan’s Wonderland, a San Antonio park devoted to children with special cognitive/physical needs from around the world who are admitted free of charge.
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